Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Irma T. Elo


This dissertation examines three contemporary social phenomena—globalization, the rise of secondary and tertiary education, and dramatic changes in marriage and divorce—and their relation to key demographic processes. This set of topics is purposely broad, in order to demonstrate the importance of interlinkages between demography and the social world. Classical demographic techniques can be extended to provide a toolkit through which one can investigate and provide insight into a diverse set of social processes.

Chapter I examines the relationship between globalization and contemporary fertility transitions. Fertility transitions have been studied since the inception of the field of demography, but we still have a limited understanding of how they arise, progress, and diffuse across populations. I test the theory that since 1960, global normative forces led to fertility transitions in many developing countries. I show that countries that are more connected through the global network have converged in fertility. In particular, poor countries engaged in trade with rich countries have converged towards the fertility rates of their rich trade partners.

Chapter II considers how the changing educational distribution in the United States has shaped educational differentials in life expectancy. Though educational gradients in longevity have widened since 1990, many have questioned whether this widening is due to people with less than high school becoming a smaller, increasingly select group. I use a composition-adjusted life expectancy measure to show that much of the change in education-specific life expectancy can be attributed to changing educational composition. Adjusting for compositional change shows that life expectancy gradients have not widened by nearly as much as we thought.

Chapter III traces out the history of American marriage since 1960. I develop and extend two-sex models of the marital life cycle to quantify how changes in marriage, divorce, mortality, and assortative mating have shaped marital life cycles. I find that there has been an educational divergence in marriage and divorce, and demonstrate that much of the truncation in marriage can be attributed to later age at marriage and higher rates of divorce, but is partly offset by lower mortality and more extensive marital sorting.